THE ZETA RETICULI INCIDENT
By Terence Dickinson with related commentary by: Jeffrey L.
Kretsch, Carl Sagan, Steven Soter, Robert Schaeffer, Marjorie
Fish, David Saunders, and Michael Peck.
(C) 1976 by AstroMedia, Corp., publisher of Astronomy Magazine.
A faint pair of stars, 220 trillion miles away, has been
tentatively identified as the "home base" of intelligent
extraterrestrials who allegedly visited Earth in 1961. This
hypothesis is based on a strange, almost bizarre series of events
mixing astronomical research with hypnosis, amnesia, and alien
The two stars are known as Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, or
together as simply Zeta Reticuli. They are each fifth magnitude
stars -- barely visible to the unaided eye -- located in the
obscure souther constellation Reticulum. This southerly sky
location makes Zeta Reticuli invisible to observers north of
Mexico City's latitude.
The weird circumstances that we have dubbed "The Zeta
Reticuli Incident" sound like they come straight from the UFO
pages in one of those tabloids sold in every supermarket. But
this is much more than a retelling of a famous UFO incident; it's
an astronomical detective story that at times hovers on that hazy
line that separates science from fiction. It all started this
The date is Sept. 19, 1961. A middle aged New Hampshire
couple, Betty and Barney Hill, are driving home from a short
vacation in Canada. It's dark, with the moon and stars
illuminating the wooded landscape along U.S. Route 3 in central
New Hampshire. The Hills' curiosity is aroused when a bright
"star" seems to move in an irregular pattern. They stop the car
for a better view. The object moves closer, and its disklike
shape becomes evident.
Barney grabs his binoculars from the car seat and steps out.
He walks into a field to get a closer look, focuses the
binoculars, and sees the object plainly. It has windows -- and
behind the windows, looking directly at him are...humanoid
creatures! Terrified, Barney stumbles back to the car, throws it
into first gear and roars off. But for some reason he turns down
a side road where five of the humanoids are standing on the road.
Apparently unable to control their actions, Betty and Barney
are easily taken back to the ship by the humanoids. While inside
they are physically examined, and one of the humanoids
communicates to Betty. After the examination she asks him where
they are from. In response he shows her a three-dimensional map
with various sized dots and lines on it. "Where are you on the
map?" the humanoid asks Betty. She doesn't know, so the subject
Betty and Barney are returned unharmed to their car. They
are told they will forget the abduction portion of the incident.
The ship rises, and then hurtles out of sight. The couple
continue their journey home oblivious of the abduction.
But the Hills are troubled by unexplained dreams and anxiety
about two hours of their trip that they can't account for.
Betty, a social worker, asks advice from a psychiatrist friend.
He suggests that the memory of that time will be gradually
restored over the next few months -- but it never is. Two years
after the incident, the couple are still bothered by the missing
two hours, and Barney's ulcers are acting up. A Boston
psychiatrist, Benjamin Simon, is recommended, and after several
months of weekly hypnosis sessions the bizarre events of that
night in 1961 are revealed. A short time later a UFO group leaks
a distorted version of the story to the press and the whole thing
blows up. The Hills reluctantly disclose the entire story.
Can we take this dramatic scenario seriously? Did this
incredible contact with aliens actually occur or is it some kind
of hallucination that affected both Barney and Betty Hill? The
complete account of the psychiatric examination from which the
details of the event emerged is related in John G. Fuller's 'The
Interrupted Journey' (Dial Press, 1966), where we read that after
the extensive psychiatric examination, Simon concluded that the
Hills were not fabricating the story. The most likely
possibilities seem to be: (a) the experience actually happened,
or (b) some perceptive and illusory misinterpretations occurred
in relationship to some real event.
There are other cases of alleged abductions by
extraterrestrial humanoids. The unique aspect of the Hills'
abduction is that they remembered virtually nothing of the
Intrigued by the Hills' experience, J. Allen Hynek, chairman
of the department of astronomy at Northwestern University,
decided to investigate. Hynek described how the Hills recalled
the details of their encounter in his book, 'The UFO Experience'
(Henry Regnery Company, 1972):
"Under repeated hypnosis they independently revealed what
had supposedly happened. The two stories agreed in considerable
detail, although neither Betty nor Barney was privy to what the
other had said under hypnosis until much later. Under hypnosis
they stated that they had been taken separately aboard the craft,
treated well by the occupants -- rather as humans might treat
experimental animals -- and then released after having been given
the hypnotic suggestion that they would remember nothing of that
particular experience. The method of their release supposedly
accounted for the amnesia, which was apparently broken only by
A number of scientists, including Hynek, have discussed this
incident at length with Barney and Betty Hill and have questioned
them under hypnosis. They concur with Simon's belief that there
seems to be no evidence of outright fabrication or lying. One
would also wonder what Betty, who has a master's degree in social
work and is a supervisor in the New Hampshire Welfare Department,
and Barney, who was on the governor of New Hampshire's Civil
Rights Commission, would have to gain by a hoax? Although the
Hills didn't, several people have lost their jobs after being
associated with similarly unusual publicity.
Stanton T. Friedman, a nuclear physicist and the nation's
only space scientist devoting full time to researching the UFO
phenomenon, has spent many hours in conversation with the Hills.
"By no stretch of the imagination could anyone who knows them
conclude that they were nuts," he emphasizes.
So the experience remains a fascinating story despite the
absence of proof that it actually happened. Anyway -- that's
where things were in 1966 when Marjorie Fish, an Ohio
schoolteacher, amateur astronomer and member of Mensa, became
involved. She wondered if the objects shown on the map that
Betty Hill allegedly observed inside the vehicle might represent
some actual pattern of celestial objects. To get more
information about the map she decided to visit Betty Hill in the
summer of 1969. (Barney Hill died in early 1969.) Here is Ms.
Fish's account of that meeting:
"On Aug.4, 1969, Betty Hill discussed the star map with me.
Betty explained that she drew the map in 1964 under posthypnotic
suggestion. It was to be drawn only if she could remember it
accurately, and she was not to pay attention to what she was
drawing -- which puts it in the realm of automatic drawing. This
is a way of getting at repressed or forgotten material and can
result in unusual accuracy. She made two erasures showing her
conscious mind took control part of the time.
"Betty described the map as three-dimensional, like looking
through a window. The stars were tinted and glowed. The map
material was flat and thin (not a model), and there were no
noticeable lenticular lines like one of our three-dimensional
processes. (It sounds very much like a reflective hologram.)
Betty did not shift her position while viewing it, so we cannot
tell if it would give the same three-dimensional view from all
positions or if it would be completely three-dimensional. Betty
estimated the map was approximately three feet wide and two feet
high with the pattern covering most of the map. She was standing
about three feet away from it. She said there were many other
stars on the map but she only (apparently) was able to
specifically recall the prominent ones connected by lines and a
small distinctive triangle off to the left. There was no
concentration of stars to indicate the Milky Way (galactic plane)
suggesting that if it represented reality, it probably only
contained local stars. There were no grid lines."
So much for the background material on the Hill incident.
(If you want more details on the encounter, see Fuller's book).
For the moment we will leave Marjorie Fish back in 1969 trying to
interpret Betty Hill's reproduction of the map. There is a
second major area of background information that we have to
attend to before we can properly discuss the map. Unlike the
bizarre events just described, the rest is pure astronomy.
According to the most recent star catalogs, there are about
1,000 known stars within a radius of 55 light-years of the sun.
What are those other stars like? A check of the catalogs
shows that most of them are faint stars of relatively low
temperature -- a class of stars astronomers call main sequence
stars. The sun is a main sequence star along with most of the
other stars in this part of the Milky Way galaxy, as the
following table shows:
Main sequence stars 91%
White dwarfs 8%
Giants and Supergiants 1%
Typical giant stars are Arcturus and Capella. Antares and
Betelgeuse are members of the ultrarare supergiant class. At the
other end of the size and brightness scale the white dwarfs are
stellar cinders -- the remains of once brilliant suns. For
reasons that will soon become clear we can remove these classes
of stars from our discussion and concentrate on the main sequence
stars whose characteristics are shown in the table.
CHARACTERISTICS OF MAIN SEQUENCE STARS
Class Proportion Temperature Mass Luminosity Lifespan
of Total (Degrees F) (sun=1) (sun=1) (billions yrs)
A0 1% 20,000 2.8 60 0.5 Vega
A5 15,000 2.2 20 1.0
F0 3% 13,000 1.7 6 2.0 Procyon
F5 12,000 1.25 3 4.0
G0 9% 11,000 1.06 1.3 10 Sun
G5 10,000 0.92 0.8 15
K0 14% 9,000 0.80 0.4 20 Epsilon
K5 8,000 0.69 0.1 30
M0 73% 7,000 0.48 0.02 75 Proxima
M5 5,000 0.20 0.001 200
The spectral class letters are part of a system of stellar
"fingerprinting" that identifies the main sequence star's
temperature and gives clues to its mass and luminosity. The
hottest, brightest and most massive main sequence stars (with
rare exceptions) are the A stars. The faintest, coolest and
least massive are the M stars.
Each class is subdivided into 10 subcategories. For
example, an A0 star is hotter, brighter and more massive than an
A1 which is above an A2, and so on through A9.
This table supplies much additional information and shows
how a slightly hotter and more massive star turns out to be much
more luminous than the sun, a G2 star. But the bright stars pay
dearly for their splendor. It takes a lot of stellar fuel to
emit vast quantities of light and heat. The penalty is a short
lifespan as a main sequence star. Conversely, the inconspicuous,
cool M stars may be around to see the end of the universe --
whatever that might be. With all these facts at hand we're now
ready to tackle the first part of the detective story.
Let's suppose we wanted to make our own map of a trip to the
stars. We will limit ourselves to the 55 light-year radius
covered by the detailed star catalogs. The purpose of the trip
will be to search for intelligent life on planets that may be in
orbit around these stars. We would want to include every star
that would seem likely to have a life-bearing planet orbiting
around it. How many of these thousand-odd stars would we include
for such a voyage and which direction would we go? (For the
moment, we'll forget about the problem of making a spacecraft
that will take us to these stars and we'll assume that we've got
some kind of vehicle that will effortlessly transport us to
wherever we want to go.) We don't want to waste our time and
efforts -- we only want to go to stars that we would think would
have a high probability of having planets harboring advanced life
forms. This seems like a tall order. How do we even begin to
determine which stars might likely have such planets?
The first rule will be to restrict ourselves to life as we
know it, the kind of life that we are familiar with here on Earth
-- carbon based life. Science fiction writers are fond of
describing life forms based on chemical systems that we have been
unable to duplicate here on Earth -- such as silicon based life
or life based on the ammonium hydroxide molecule instead of on
carbon. But right now these life forms are simply fantasy -- we
have no evidence that they are in fact possible. Because we
don't even know what they might look like -- if they're out there
-- we necessarily have to limit our search to the kind of life
that we understand.
Our kind of life -- life as we know it -- seems most likely
to evolve on a planet that has a stable temperature regime. It
must be at the appropriate distance from its sun so that water is
neither frozen nor boiled away. The planet has to be the
appropriate size so that its gravity doesn't hold on to too much
atmosphere (like Jupiter) or too little (like Mars). But the
main ingredient in a life-bearing planet is its star. And its
star is the only thing we can study since planets of other stars
are far too faint to detect directly.
The conclusion we can draw is this: The star has to be like
Main sequence stars are basically stable for long periods of
time. As shown in the table, stars in spectral class G have
stable lifespans of 10 billion years. (Our sun, actually a G2
star, has a somewhat longer stable life expectancy of 11 billion
years.) We are about five billion years into that period so we
can look forward to the sun remaining much as it is (actually it
will brighten slightly) for another six billion years. Stars of
class F4 or higher have stable burning periods of less than 3.5
billion years. They have to be ruled out immediately. Such
stars cannot have life-bearing planets because, at least based on
our experience on our world, this is not enough time to permit
highly developed biological systems to evolve on the land areas
of a planet. (Intelligent life may very well arise earlier in
water environments, but let's forget that possibility since we
have not yet had meaningful communication with the dolphins --
highly intelligent creatures on this planet!) But we may be
wrong in our estimate of life development time. There is another
more compelling reason for eliminating stars of class F4 and
So far, we have assumed all stars have planets, just as our
sun does. Yet spectroscopic studies of stars of class F4 and
brighter reveal that most of them are in fact unlike our sun in a
vital way -- they are rapidly rotating stars. The sun rotates
once in just under a month, but 60 percent of the stars in the F0
to F4 range rotate much faster. And almost all A stars are rapid
rotators too. It seems, from recent studies of stellar evolution
that slowly rotating stars like the sun rotate slowly because
they have planets. Apparently the formation of a planetary
system robs the star of much of its rotational momentum.
For two reasons, then, we eliminate stars of class F4 and
above: (1) most of them rotate rapidly and thus seem to be
planetless, and (2) their stable lifespans are too brief for
advanced life to develop.
Another problem environment for higher forms of life is the
multiple star system. About half of all stars are born in pairs,
or small groups of three or more. Our sun could have been part
of a double star system. If Jupiter was 80 times more massive it
would be an M6 red dwarf star. If the stars of a double system
are far enough apart there is no real problem for planets
sustaining life (see "Planet of the Double Sun", September 1974).
But stars in fairly close or highly elliptical orbits would
alternately fry or freeze their planets. Such planets would also
likely have unstable orbits. Because this is a potentially
troublesome area for our objective, we will eliminate all close
and moderately close pairs of systems of multiple stars.
Further elimination is necessary according to the catalogs.
Some otherwise perfect stars are labeled "variable". This means
astronomers have observed variations of at least a few percent in
the star's light output. A one percent fluctuation in the sun
would be annoying for us here on Earth. Anything greater would
cause climatic disaster. Could intelligent life evolve under
such conditions, given an otherwise habitable planet? It seems
unlikely. We are forced to "scratch" all stars suspected or
proven to be variable.
This still leaves a few F stars, quite a few G stars, and
hoards of K and M dwarfs. Unfortunately most of the Ks and all
of the Ms are out. Let's find out why.
These stars quite likely have planets. Indeed, one M star
-- known as Barnard's star -- is believed to almost certainly
have at least one, and probably two or three, Jupiter sized
planets. Peter Van de Kamp of the Sproul Observatory at
Swarthmore College (Pa.) has watched Barnard's star for over
three decades and is convinced that a "wobbling" motion of that
star is due to perturbations (gravitational "pulling and
pushing") caused by its unseen planets. (Earth sized planets
cannot be detected in this manner.)
But the planets of M stars and the K stars below K4 have two
serious handicaps that virtually eliminate them from being abodes
for life. First, these stars fry their planets with occasional
lethal bursts of radiation emitted from erupting solar flares.
The flares have the same intensity as those of our sun, but when
you put that type of flare on a little star it spells disaster
for a planet that is within, say, 30 million miles. The problem
is that planets have to be that close to get enough heat from
these feeble suns. If they are farther out, they have frozen
oceans and no life.
The close-in orbits of potential Earthlike planets of M and
faint K stars produce the second dilemma -- rotational lock. An
example of rotational lock is right next door to us. The moon,
because of its nearness to Earth, is strongly affected by our
planet's tidal forces. Long ago our satellite stopped rotating
and now has one side permanently turned toward Earth. The same
principles apply to planets of small stars that would otherwise
be at the right distance for moderate temperatures. If
rotational lock has not yet set in, at least rotational
retardation would make impossibly long days and nights (as
evidenced by Mercury in our solar system).
What stars are left after all this pruning? All of the G
stars remain along with F5 through F9 and K0 through K4. Stephen
Dole of the Rand Corporation has made a detailed study of stars
in this range and suggests we should also eliminate F5, F6 and F7
stars because they balloon to red giants before they reach an age
of five billion years. Dole feels this is cutting it too fine
for intelligent species to fully evolve. Admittedly this is
based on our one example of intelligent life -- us. But limited
though this parameter is, it is the only one we have. Dole
believes the K2, K3 and K4 stars are also poor prospects because
of their feeble energy output and consequently limited zone for
suitable Earthlike planets.
Accepting Dole's further trimming we are left with single,
nonvariable stars from F8 through all the Gs to K1. What does
that leave us with? Forty-six stars.
Now we are ready to plan the trip. It's pretty obvious that
Tau Ceti is our first target. After that, the choice is more
difficult. We can't take each star in order or we would be
darting all over the sky. It's something like planning a
vacation trip. Let's say we start from St. Louis and want to hit
all the major cities within a 1,000 mile radius. If we go west,
all we can visit is Kansas City and Denver. But northeast is a
bonanza: Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia,
New York and more. The same principle applies to the planning of
our interstellar exploration. The plot of all 46 candidate stars
reveals a clumping in the direction of the constellations Cetus
and Eridanus. Although this section amounts to only 13 percent
of the entire sky, it contains 15 of the 46 stars, or 33 percent
of the total. Luckily Tau Ceti is in this group, so that's the
direction we should go (comparable to heading northeast from St.
Louis). If we plan to visit some of these solar type stars and
then return to Earth, we should try to have the shortest distance
between stops. It would be a waste of exploration time if we
zipped randomly from one star to another.
Now we are ready to return to the map drawn by Betty Hill.
Marjorie Fish reasoned that if the stars in the Hill map
corresponded to a patter of real stars -- perhaps something like
we just developed, only from an alien's viewpoint -- it might be
possible to pinpoint the origin of the alleged space travelers.
Assuming the two stars in the foreground of the Hill map were the
"base" stars (the sun, a single star, was ruled out here), she
decided to try to locate the entire pattern. She theorized that
the Hill map contained only local stars since no concentration
would be present if a more distant viewpoint was assumed and if
both "us" and the alien visitors' home base were to be
Let's assume, just as an astronomical exercise, that the map
does show the sun and the star that is "the sun" to the
humanoids. We'll take the Hill encounter at face value, and see
where it leads.
Since the aliens were described as "humanoid" and seemed
reasonably comfortable on this planet, their home planet should
be basically like ours. Their atmosphere must be similar because
the Hills breathed without trouble while inside the ship, and the
aliens did not appear to wear any protective apparatus. And
since we assume their biology is similar to ours, their planet
should have the same temperature regime as Earth (Betty and
Barney did say it was uncomfortably cold in the ship). In
essence, then, we assume their home planet must be very
Earthlike. Based on what we discussed earlier it follows that
their sun would be on our list if it were within 55 light-years
The lines on the map, according to Betty Hill, were
described by the alien as "trade routes" or "places visited
occasionally" with the dotted lines as "expeditions". Any
interpretation of the Betty Hill map must retain the logic of
these routes (i.e. the lines would link stars that would be worth
Keeping all this in mind, Marjorie Fish constructed several
three-dimensional models of the solar neighborhood in hopes of
detecting the pattern in the Hill map. Using beads dangling on
threads, she painstakingly recreated our stellar environment.
Between Aug. 1968 and Feb. 1973, she strung beads, checked data,
searched and checked again. A suspicious alignment, detected in
late 1968, turned out to be almost a perfect match once new data
from the detailed 1969 edition of the Catalog of Nearby Stars
became available. (This catalog is often called the "Gliese
catalog" -- pronounced "glee-see" -- after its principal author,
THE 46 NEAREST STARS SIMILAR TO THE SUN
NAME DISTANCE MAGNITUDE LUMINOSITY SPECTRUM
(light-years) (visual) (sun=1)
Tau Ceti 11.8 3.5 0.4 G8
82 Eridani 20.2 4.3 0.7 G5
Zeta Tucanae 23.3 4.2 0.9 G2
107 Piscium 24.3 5.2 0.4 K1
Berenices 27.2 4.3 1.2 G0
61 Virginis 27.4 4.7 0.8 G6
Alpha Mensae 28.3 5.1 0.6 G5
Gliese 75 28.6 5.6 0.4 K0
Venaticorum 29.9 4.3 1.4 G0
Chi Orionis 32 4.4 1.5 G0
54 Piscium 34 5.9 0.4 K0
Zeta 1 Reticuli 37 5.5 0.7 G2
Zeta 2 Reticuli 37 5.2 0.9 G2
Gliese 86 37 6.1 0.4 K0
Mu Arae 37 5.1 0.9 G5
Gliese 67 38 5.0 1.2 G2
Gliese 668.1 40 6.3 0.4 G9
Gliese 302 41 6.0 0.6 G8
Gliese 309 41 6.4 0.4 K0
Kappa Fornacis 42 5.2 1.3 G1
58 Eridani 42 5.5 0.9 G1
Zeta Doradus 44 4.7 2.0 F8
55 Cancri 44 6.0 0.7 G8
47 Ursa Majoris 44 5.1 1.5 G0
Gliese 364 45 4.9 1.8 G0
Gliese 599A 45 6.0 0.6 G6
Nu Phoenicis 45 5.0 1.8 F8
Gliese 95 45 6.3 0.5 G5
Gliese 796 47 5.6 0.5 G8
20 Leo Minoris 47 5.4 1.2 G4
39 Tauri 47 5.9 0.8 G1
Gliese 290 47 6.6 0.4 G8
Gliese 59.2 48 5.7 1.0 G2
Psi Aurigae 49 5.2 1.5 G0
Gliese 722 49 5.9 0.9 G4
Gliese 788 49 5.9 0.8 G5
Nu 2 Lupi 50 5.6 1.1 G2
14 Herculis 50 6.6 0.5 K1
Pi Ursa Majoris 51 5.6 1.2 G0
Phi 2 Ceti 51 5.2 1.8 F8
Gliese 641 52 6.6 0.5 G8
Gliese 97.2 52 6.9 0.4 K0
Gliese 541.1 53 6.5 0.6 G8
109 Piscium 53 6.3 0.8 G4
Gliese 651 53 6.8 0.4 G8
Gliese 59 53 6.7 0.4 G8
This table lists all known stars within a radius of 54 light-years that are
single or part of a wide multiple star system. They have no known
irregularities or variabilities and are between 0.4 and 2.0 times the
luminosity of the sun. Thus, a planet basically identical to
Earth could be orbiting around any one of them. (Data from the
Catalog of Nearby Stars, 1969 edition, by Wilhelm Gliese.)
The 16 stars in the stellar configuration discovered by
Marjorie Fish are compared with the map drawn by Betty Hill in
the diagram on page 6. If some of the star names on the Fish map
sound familiar, they should. Ten of the 16 stars are from the
compact group that we selected earlier based on the most logical
direction to pursue to conduct interstellar exploration from
Continuing to take the Hill map at face value, the radiating
pattern of "trade routes" implies that Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli
are the "hub" of exploration or, in the context of the incident,
the aliens' home base. The sun is at the end of one of the
supposedly regular trade routes.
The pair of stars that make up Zeta Reticuli is practically
in the midst of the cluster of solar type stars that attracted us
while we were mapping out a logical interstellar voyage.
Checking further we find that all but two of the stars in the
Fish pattern are on the table of nearby solar type stars. These
two stars are Tau 1 Eridani (an F6 star) and Gliese 86.1 (K2),
and are, respectively, just above and below the parameters we
arrived at earlier. One star that should be there (Zeta Tucanae)
is missing probably because it is behind Zeta 1 Reticuli at the
required viewing angle.
To summarize, then: (1) the pattern discovered by Marjorie
Fish has an uncanny resemblance to the map drawn by Betty Hill;
(2) the stars are mostly the ones that we would visit if we were
exploring from Zeta Reticuli, and (3) the travel patterns
generally make sense.
Walter Mitchell, professor of astronomy at Ohio State
University in Columbus, has looked at Marjorie Fish's
interpretation of the Betty Hill map in detail and tells us, "The
more I examine it, the more I am impressed by the astronomy
involved in Marjorie Fish's work."
During their examination of the map, Mitchell and some of
his students inserted the positions of hundreds of nearby stars
into a computer and had various space vistas brought up on a
cathode ray tube readout. They requested the computer to put
them in a position out beyond Zeta Reticuli looking toward the
sun. From this viewpoint the map pattern obtained by Marjorie
Fish was duplicated with virtually no variations. Mitchell noted
an important and previously unknown fact first pointed out by Ms.
Fish: The stars in the map are almost in a plane; that is, they
fill a wheel shaped volume of space that makes star hopping from
one to another easy and the logical way to go -- and that is what
is implied by the map that Betty Hill allegedly saw.
"I can find no major point of quibble with Marjorie Fish's
interpretation of the Betty Hill map," says David R. Saunders, a
statistics expert at the Industrial Relations Center of the
University of Chicago. By various lines of statistical reasoning
he concludes that the chances of finding a match among 16 stars
of a specific spectral type among the thousand-odd stars nearest
the sun is "at least 1,000 to 1 against".
"The odds are about 10,000 to 1 against a random
configuration matching perfectly with Betty Hill's map," Saunders
reports. "But the star group identified by Marjorie Fish isn't
quite a perfect match, and the odds consequently reduce to about
1,000 to 1. That is, there is one chance in 1,000 that the
observed degree of congruence would occur in the volume of space
we are discussing.
"In most fields of investigation where similar statistical
methods are used, that degree of congruence is rather
persuasive," concludes Saunders.
Saunders, who has developed a monumental computerized
catalog of more than 60,000 UFO sightings, tells us that the Hill
case is not unique in its general characteristics -- there are
other known cases of alleged communication with
extraterrestrials. But in no other case on record have maps ever
Mark Steggert of the Space Research Coordination Center at
the University of Pittsburgh developed a computer program that he
calls PAR (for Perspective Alteration Routine) that can duplicate
the appearance of star fields from various viewpoints in space.
"I was intrigued by the proposal put forth by Marjorie Fish
that she had interpreted a real star pattern for the alleged map
of Betty Hill. I was incredulous that models could be used to do
an astronometric problem," Steggert says. "To my surprise I
found that the pattern that I derived from my program had a close
correspondence to the data from Marjorie Fish."
After several run-throughs, he confirmed the positions
determined by Marjorie Fish. "I was able to locate potential
areas of error, but no real errors," Steggert concludes.
Steggert zeroed in on possibly the only real bone of
contention that anyone has had with Marjorie Fish's
interpretation: The data on some of the stars may not be
accurate enough for us to make definitive conclusions. For
example, he says the data from the Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory Catalog, the Royal Astronomical Society Observatory
Catalog, and the Yale Catalog of Bright Stars "have differences
of up to two magnitudes and differences in distance amounting to
40 percent for the star Gliese 59". Other stars have less
variations in the data from one catalog to another, but
Steggert's point is valid. The data on some of the stars in the
map is just not good enough to make a definitive statement. (The
fact that measurements of most of the stars in question can only
be made at the relatively poor equipped southern hemisphere
observatories accounts for the less reliable data.)
Using information on the same 15 stars from the Royal
Observatory catalog (Annals #5), Steggert reports that the
pattern does come out differently because of the different data,
and Gliese 59 shows the largest variation. The Gliese catalog
uses photometric, trigonometric and spectroscopic parallaxes and
derives a mean from all three after giving various mathematical
weights to each value. "The substantial variation in catalog
material is something that must be overcome," says Steggert.
"This must be the next step in attempting to evaluate the map."
This point of view is shared by Jeffrey L. Kretsch, an
undergraduate student who is working under the advisement of J.
Allen Hynek at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Like
Steggert, he too checked Marjorie Fish's pattern and found no
error in the work. But Kretsch reports that when he
reconstructed the pattern using trigonometric distance
measurements instead of the composite measures in the Gliese
catalog, he found enough variations to move Gliese 95 above the
line between Gliese 86 and Tau 1 Eridani.
"The data for some of the stars seems to be very reliable,
but a few of the pattern stars are not well observed and data on
them is somewhat conflicting," says Kretsch. The fact that the
pattern is less of a "good fit" using data from other sources
leads Kretsch and others to wonder what new observations would
do. Would they give a closer fit? Or would the pattern become
distorted? Marjorie Fish was aware of the catalog variations,
but has assumed the Gliese catalog is the most reliable source
material to utilize.
Is the Gliese catalog the best available data source.
According to several astronomers who specialize in stellar
positions, it probably is. Peter Van de Kamp says, "It's first
rate. There is none better." He says the catalog was compiled
with extensive research and care over many years.
A lot of the published trigonometric parallaxes on the stars
beyond 30 light-years are not as accurate as they could be,
according to Kyle Cudworth of Yerkes Observatory. "Gliese added
other criteria to compensate and lessen the possible errors," he
The scientific director of the U.S. Naval Observatory, K.A.
Strand, is among the world's foremost authorities on stellar
distances for nearby stars. He believes the Gliese catalog "is
the most complete and comprehensive source available."
Frank B. Salisbury of the University of Utah has also
examined the Hill and Fish maps. "The pattern of stars
discovered by Marjorie Fish fits the map drawn by Betty Hill
remarkably well. It's a striking coincidence and forces one to
take the Hill story more seriously," he says. Salisbury is one
of the few scientists who has spent some time on the UFO problem
and has written a book and several articles on the subject. A
professor of plant physiology, his biology expertise has been
turned to astronomy on several occasions while studying the
possibility of biological organisms existing on Mars.
Salisbury insists that while psychological factors do play
an important role in UFO phenomena, the Hill story does represent
one of the most credible reports of incredible events. The fact
that the story and the map came to light under hypnosis is good
evidence that it actually took place. "But it is not unequivocal
evidence," he cautions.
Elaborating on this aspect of the incident, Mark Steggert
offers this: "I am inclined to question the ability of Betty,
under posthypnotic suggestion, to duplicate the pattern two years
after she saw it. She noted no grid lines on the pattern for
reference. Someone should (or perhaps has already) conduct a
test to see how well a similar patter could be recalled after a
substantial period of time. The stress she was under at the time
is another unknown factor."
"The derivation of the base data by hypnotic techniques
is perhaps not as 'far out' as it may seem," says Stanton
Friedman. "Several police departments around the country use
hypnosis on rape victims in order to get descriptions of the
assailants -- descriptions that would otherwise remain repressed.
The trauma of such circumstances must be comparable in some ways
to the Hill incident."
Is it at all possible we are faced with a hoax?
"Highly unlikely," says Salisbury -- and the other
investigators agree. One significant fact against a charade is
that the data from the Gliese catalog was not published until
1969, five years after the star map was drawn by Betty Hill.
Prior to 1969, the data could only have been obtained from the
observatories conducting research on the specific stars in
question. It is not uncommon for astronomers not to divulge
their research data -- even to their colleagues -- before it
appears in print. In general, the entire sequence of events just
does not smell of falsification. Coincidence, possibly; hoax,
Where does all this leave us? Are there creatures
inhabiting a planet of Zeta 2 Reticuli? Did they visit Earth in
1961? The map indicates that the sun has been "visited
occasionally". What does that mean? Will further study and
measurement of the stars in the map change their relative
positions and thus distort the configuration beyond the limits of
The fact that the entire incident hinges on a map drawn
under less than normal circumstances certainly keeps us from
drawing a firm conclusion. Exobiologists are united in their
opinion that the chance of us having neighbors so similar to us,
apparently located so close, is vanishingly small. But then, we
don't even know for certain if there is anybody at all out there
-- anywhere -- despite the Hill map and pronouncements of the
most respected scientists.
The only answer is to continue the search. Someday, perhaps
soon, we will know.
THE VIEW FROM ZETA RETICULI
The two stars that comprise the Zeta Reticuli system are
almost identical to the sun. Thy are the only known examples of
two solar type stars apparently linked into a binary star system
of wide separation.
Zeta 1 is separated from Zeta 2 by at least 350 billion
miles -- about 100 times the sun-Pluto distance. They may be
even farther apart, but the available observations suggest they
are moving through space together and are therefore physically
associated. They probably require at least 100,000 years to
orbit around their common center of gravity.
Both Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 are prime candidates for the search
for life beyond Earth. According to our current theories of
planetary formation, they both should have a retinue of planets
something like our solar system. As yet there is no way of
determining if any of the probable planets of either star is
similar to Earth.
To help visualize the Zeta Reticuli system, let's take the
sun's nine planets and put them in identical orbits around Zeta
2. From a celestial mechanics standpoint there is no reason why
this situation could not exist. Would anything be different?
Because of Zeta 2's slightly smaller mass as compared with the
sun, the planets would orbit a little more slowly. Our years
might have 390 days, for example. Zeta 2 would make a fine sun -
- slightly dimmer than "old Sol", but certainly capable of
sustaining life. The big difference would not be our new sun but
the superstar of the night sky. Shining like a polished gem,
Zeta 1 would be the dazzling highlight of the night sky -- unlike
anything we experience here on Earth. At magnitude -9 it would
appear as a starlike point 100 times brighter than Venus. It
would be like compressing all the light from the first quarter
moon into a point source.
Zeta 1 would have long ago been the focus of religions,
mythology and astrology if it were in earthly skies. The fact
that it would be easily visible in full daylight would give Zeta
1 supreme importance to both early civilizations and modern man.
Shortly after the invention of the telescope astronomers would be
able to detect Jupiter and Saturn sized planets orbiting around
Zeta 1. Jupiter would be magnitude +12, visible up to 4.5
minutes of arc from Zeta 1 (almost as far as Ganymede swings from
Jupiter). It would not make a difficult target for an eight inch
telescope. Think of the incentive that discovery would have on
interstellar space travel! For hundreds of years we would be
aware of another solar system just a few "light-weeks" away. The
evolution of interstellar spaceflight would be rapid, dynamic and
By contrast, our nearest solar type neighbor is Tau Ceti at
12 light-years. Even today we only suspect it is accompanied by
a family of planets, but we don't know for sure.
From this comparison of our planetary system with those of
Zeta Reticuli, it is clear that any emerging technologically
advanced intelligent life would probably have great incentive to
achieve star flight. The knowledge of a nearby system of planets
of a solar type star would be compelling -- at least it would
certainly seem to be.
What is so strange -- and this question prompted us to
prepare this article -- is: Why, of all stars, does Zeta
Reticuli seem to fit as the hub of a map that appeared inside a
spacecraft that allegedly landed on Earth in 1961? Some of the
circumstances surrounding the whole incident are certainly
bizarre, but not everything can be written off as coincidence or
hallucination. It may be optimistic, on one extreme, to hope
that our neighbors are as near as 37 light-years away. For the
moment we will be satisfied with considering it an exciting
THE AGE OF NEARBY STARS
By Jeffrey L. Kretsch
The age of our own sun is known with some accuracy largely
because we live on one of its planets. Examination of Earth
rocks -- and, more recently, rocks and soil from the moon -- has
conclusively shown that these two worlds went through their
initial formation 4.6 billion years ago. The formation of the
sun and planets is believed to have been virtually simultaneous,
with the sun's birth producing the planetary offspring.
But we have yet to travel to any other planet -- and
certainly a flight to the surface of a planet of a nearby star is
an event no one reading this will live to witness. So direct
measurement of the ages of nearby stars -- as a by-product of
extrasolar planetary exploration -- is a distant future
enterprise. We are left with information obtained from our
vantage point here near Earth. There is lots of it -- so let's
find out what it is and what it can tell us.
When we scan the myriad stars of the night sky, are we
looking at suns that have just ignited their nuclear fires -- or
have they been flooding the galaxy with light for billions of
years? The ages of the stars are among the most elusive stellar
characteristics. Now, new interpretation of data collected over
the past half century is shedding some light on this question.
Computer models of stellar evolution reveal that stars have
definite lifespans; thus, a certain type of star cannot be older
than its maximum predicted lifespan. Solar type stars of
spectral class F5 or higher (hotter) cannot be older than our sun
is today. These stars' nuclear fires burn too rapidly to sustain
them for a longer period, and they meet an early death.
All main sequence stars cooler than F5 can be as old or
older than the sun. Additionally, these stars are also much more
likely to have planets than the hotter suns.
There are several exciting reasons why the age of a star
should be tracked down. Suppose we have a star similar to the
sun (below class F5). If we determine how old the star is, we
can assume its planets are the same age -- a fascinating piece of
information that suggests a host of questions: Would older
Earthlike planets harbor life more advanced than us? Is there
anything about older or younger stars and planets that would make
them fundamentally different from the sun and Earth?
Of course we don't know the answer to the first question,
but it is provocative. The answer to the second question seems
to be yes (according to the evidence that follows).
To best illustrate the methods of star age determination and
their implications, let's select a specific problem. "The Zeta
Reticuli Incident" sparked more interest among our readers than
any other single article in ASTRONOMY's history. Essentially,
that article drew attention to a star map allegedly seen inside
an extraterrestrial spacecraft. The map was later deciphered by
Marjorie Fish, now a research assistant at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory in Tennessee.
In her analysis, Ms. Fish linked all 16 prominent stars in
the original map (which we'll call the Hill map since it was
drawn by Betty Hill in 1966) to 15 real stars in the southern
sky. The congruence was remarkable. The 15 stars -- for
convenience we will call them the Fish-Hill pattern stars -- are
listed on the accompanying table.
Since these stars have been a focus of attention due to Ms.
Fish's work and the article mentioned above, we will examine them
specifically to see if enough information is available to pin
down their ages and (possibly) other characteristics. This will
be our case study star group.
THE FISH-HILL PATTERN STARS
GLIESE ALTERNATE SPECTRAL W - TOTAL GALACTIC GALACTIC
CAT. NO. NAME TYPE VELOCITY SPACE ORBIT ORBIT
VELOCITY ECCENTRICITY INCL.
-------- --------- -------- -------- -------- ------------ --------
17 Zeta Tucanae G2 -38 70 0.1575 .0529
27 54 Piscium K0 10 45 0.1475 .0260
59 HD 9540 G8 1 26 0.0436 .0133
67 HD 10307 G2 0 45 0.1057 .0092
68 107 Piscium K1 3 43 0.1437 .0134
71 Tau Ceti G8 12 36 0.2152 .0287
86 HD 13445 K0 -25 129 0.3492 .0269
86.1 HD 13435 K2 -37 41 undetermined undetermined
95 HD 14412 G5 -10 33 0.1545 .0025
97 Kappa Fornax G1 -13 35 0.0186 .0078
111 Tau 1 Eridani F6 14 81 0.0544 .0078
136 Zeta 1
Reticuli G2 15 79 0.2077 .0321
138 Zeta 2
Reticuli G1 -27 127 0.2075 .0340
139 82 Eridani G5 -12 37 0.3602 .0310
231 Alpha Mensae G5 -13 22 0.1156 .0065
Sun Sol G5 0 0 0.0559 .0091
All the stars listed here are main sequence or spectral group V stars. Tau
Ceti has a slight peculiarity in its spectrum as explained in the text. W-
velocity is the star's motion in km/sec in a direction above or below (-) in
the galactic plane. Total space velocity relative to the sun is also in
km/sec. Data is from the Gliese Catalog of Nearby Stars (1969 edition).
Consider, for example, the velocities of these stars in
space. It is now known that the composition and the age of a
star shows a reasonably close correlation with that star's
galactic orbit. The understanding of this correlation demands a
little knowledge of galactic structure.
Our galaxy, as far as we are concerned, consists essentially
of two parts -- the halo, and the disk. Apparently when the
galaxy first took shape about 10 billion years ago, it was a
colossal sphere in which the first generation of stars emerged.
These stars -- those that remain today, anyway -- define a
spherical or halolike cloud around the disk shaped Milky Way
galaxy. Early in the galaxy's history, it is believed that the
interstellar medium had a very low metal content because most of
the heavy elements (astronomers call any element heavier than
helium "heavy" or a "metal") are created in the cores of massive
stars which then get released into the interstellar medium by
stellar winds, novae and supernovae explosions. Few such massive
stars had "died" to release their newly made heavy elements.
Thus, the stars which formed early (called Population II stars)
tend to have a spherical distribution about the center of the
galaxy and are generally metal-poor.
A further gravitational collapse occurred as the galaxy
flattened out into a disk, and a new burst of star formation took
place. Since this occurred later and generations of stars had
been born and died to enrich the interstellar medium with heavy
elements, these disk stars have a metal-rich composition compared
to the halo stars. Being in the disk, these Population I stars
(the sun, for example) tended to have motions around the galactic
core in a limited plane -- something like the planets of the
Population II stars -- with their halo distribution --
usually have more random orbits which cut through the Population
I hoards in the galactic plane. A star's space velocity
perpendicular to the galactic plane is called its W-velocity.
Knowing the significance of the W-velocity, one can apply this
information to find out about the population classification
and hence the ages and compositions of stars in the solar
neighborhood -- the Fish-Hill stars in particular.
High W-velocity suggests a Population II star, and we find
that six of the 16 stars are so classified while the remaining
majority are of Population I. A further subdivision can be made
using the W-velocity data (the results are shown in the table
POPULATION CLASSIFICATION OF THE FISH-HILL STARS
OLD POPULATION I (1 TO 4 BILLION YEARS OLD)
OLDER POPULATION I (4 TO 6 BILLION YEARS OLD)
Tau 1 Eridani
DISK POPULATION II (6 TO 8 BILLION YEARS OLD)
Zeta 1 Reticuli
Zeta 2 Reticuli
INTERMEDIATE POPULATION II (ABOUT 10 BILLION YEARS OLD)
According to this classification system (based on one by A.
Blaauw), most of the 16 stars are in the same class as the sun --
implying that they are roughly of the same composition and age as
the sun. The sun would seem to be a natural unit for use in
comparing the chemical compositions and ages of the stars of the
Fish-Hill pattern because it is, after all, the standard upon
which we base our selection of stars capable of supporting life.
Three stars (Gliese 59, 67 and 68) are known as Old
Population I and are almost certainly younger than the sun. They
also probably have a higher metal content than the sun, although
specific data is not available. The Disk Population II stars are
perhaps two to four billion years older than the sun, while the
Intermediate Population II are believed to be a billion or two
years older still.
For main sequence stars like the sun, as all these stars
are, it is generally believed that after the star is formed and
settled on the main sequence no mixing between the outer layers
and the thermo-nuclear core occurs. Thus the composition of the
outer layers of a star, (from which we receive the star's light)
must have essentially the same composition as the interstellar
medium out of which the star and its planets were formed.
Terrestrial planets are composed primarily of heavy
elements. The problem is: If there is a shortage of heavy
elements in the primeval nebula, would terrestrial planets be
able to form? At present, theories of planetary formation are
unable to state for certain what the composition of the cloud
must be in order for terrestrial planets to materialize, although
it is agreed to be unlikely that Population II stars should have
terrestrial planets. But for objects somewhere between
Population I and II -- especially Disk Population II -- no one
Although we can't be certain of determining whether a star
of intermediate metal deficiencies can have planets or not, we
can make certain of the existence of metal deficiencies in those
stars. The eccentricities and inclinations of the galactic
orbits of the Fish-Hill stars provide the next step in the
The table above also shows that the stars Gliese 136, 138,
139, 86 and 71 have the highest eccentricities and inclinations
in their galactic orbits. This further supports the Population
II nature of these four stars. According to B.E.J. Pagel of the
Royal Greenwich Observatory in England, the correlation between
eccentricity and the metal/hydrogen ratio is better than that
between the W-velocity and the metal/hydrogen ratio. It is
interesting to see how closely the values of eccentricity seem to
correspond with Population type as derived from W-velocity -- Old
Population I objects having the lowest values. Since the two
methods give similar results, we can lend added weight to our
So far all the evidence for metal deficiencies has been
suggestive; no direct evidence has been given. However, specific
data can be obtained from spectroscopic analysis. The system for
which the best set of data exists also happens to be one of the
most important stars of the pattern, Zeta 1 Reticuli. In 1966,
J.D. Danziger of Harvard University published results of work he
had done on Zeta 1 Reticuli using wide-scan spectroscopy. He did
indeed find metal deficiencies in the star: carbon, 0.2,
compared to our sun; magnesium, 0.4; calcium, 0.5; titanium, 0.4;
chromium, 0.3; manganese, 0.4; iron, 0.4; cobalt, 0.4; nickel,
0.2, and so on.
In spite of the possible error range of about 25 percent,
there is a consistent trend of metal deficiencies -- with Zeta 1
Reticuli having less than half the heavy elements per unit mass
that the sun does. Because Zeta 1 Reticuli has common proper
motion and parallax with Zeta 2 Reticuli, it probably also has
the same composition. Work done by M.E. Dixon of the University
of Edinburgh showing the two stars to have virtually identical
characteristics tends to support this.
The evidence that the Zeta Reticuli system is metal
deficient is definite. From this knowledge of metal deficiency
and the velocities and eccentricities, we can safely conclude
that the Zeta Reticuli system is older than the sun. The
question of terrestrial planets being able to form remains open.
The other two stars which have high velocities and
eccentricities are 82 Eridani (Gliese 139) and Gliese 86.
Because the velocities of these stars are higher than those of
Zeta Reticuli, larger metal deficiencies might be expected. For
the case of Gliese 86, no additional information is presently
available. However, some theoretical work has been done on 82
Eridani concerning metal abundances by J. Hearnshaw of France's
Although 82 Eridani is a high velocity star, its orbit lies
largely within the galactic plane, and also within the solar
orbit. Its orbit is characteristic of the Old Disk Population,
and an ultraviolet excess indicates only a mild metal deficiency
compared to the sun. Hearnshaw's conclusions indicate that the
metal deficiency does not appear to be any worse than that of the
Zeta Reticuli pair.
Because Gliese 86 has a velocity, eccentricity and
inclination similar to 82 Eridani, it seems likely that its
chemical composition may also not have severe metal deficiencies,
but be similar to those of 82 Eridani.
Tau Ceti appears to be very much like the sun except for
slight deficiencies of most metals in rarely seen abnormal
abundances of magnesium, titanium, silicon and calcium. Stars in
this class are known as alpha-rich stars, but such properties do
not appear to make Tau Ceti unlikely to have planets similar to
Tau 1 Eridani, an F6V star, has a life expectancy of 4.5
billion years -- so it cannot be older than the sun. The low
eccentricities and low moderate velocity support an age and
composition near that of the sun.
Gliese 67 is a young star of at least solar metal
abundances, considering its low velocity and eccentricity.
Having covered most of the stars either directly or simply
by classifying them among the different Population classes, it is
apparent that there is a wide age range among different stars of
this group as well as a range of compositions. It is curious
that the stars connected by the alleged "trade routes" (solid
lines) are the older and occasionally metal deficient ones --
while the stars connected by dotted lines seem to be younger
Population I objects.
A final point concerning the metal deficiencies is rather
disturbing. Even though terrestrial planets might form about
either star in the Zeta Reticuli system, there is a specific
deficiency in carbon to well within the error range. This is
disturbing because carbon is the building block of organic
molecule chains. There is no way of knowing whether life on
Earth would have emerged and evolved as far as it has if carbon
were not as common here.
Another problem: If planets formed but lacked large
quantities of useful industrial elements, could a technical
civilization arise? If the essential elements were scarce or
locked up in chemical compounds, then an advanced technology
would be required to extract them. But the very shortage of
these elements in the first place might prevent this technology
from being realized. The dolphins are an example of an
intelligent but nontechnical race. They do not have the means to
develop technology. Perhaps some land creatures on another
planet are in a comparable position by not having the essential
elements for technological development. (This theme is explored
in detail in "What Chariots of Which Gods?", August 1974.)
This whole speculation certainly is not strong enough to
rule out the Fish interpretation of the Hill map given our
present state of knowledge. Actually in some respects, the metal
deficiencies support the Fish hypothesis because they support an
advanced age for several of the stars -- suggesting that if
cultures exist in these star systems, they might well be advanced
over our own.
The fact that none of the stars in the pattern is seriously
metal deficient (especially the vital branch high velocity stars
82 Eridani and Gliese 86) is an encouragement to the Fish
interpretation -- if terrestrial planets can form in the first
place and give rise to technical civilizations. Once again we
are confronted with evidence which seems to raise as many
questions as it answers. But the search for answers to such
questions certainly can only advance knowledge of our cosmic
Jeffrey L. Kretsch is an astronomy student at Northwestern
University working under the advisement of Dr. J. Allen Hynek.
For more than a year Kretsch has been actively pursuing follow-up
studies to the astronomical aspects of the Fish-Hill map. More
of his studies and comment s appear in In Focus.
The lead article in the December 1974 issue of ASTRONOMY,
entitled "The Zeta Reticuli Incident", centered on interpretation
of a map allegedly seen inside an extraterrestrial spacecraft.
The intent of the article was to expose to our readers a rare
instance where astronomical techniques have been used to analyze
a key element in a so-called "close encounter" UFO incident.
While not claiming that the analysis of the map was proof of a
visit by extraterrestrials, we feel the astronomical aspects of
the case are sufficiently intriguing to warrant wide
dissemination and further study.
The following notes contain detailed follow-up commentary
and information directly related to that article.
PATTERN RECOGNITION & ZETA RETICULI
By Carl Sagan & Steven Soter
"The Zeta Reticuli Incident" is very provocative. It claims
that a map, allegedly shown on board a landed extraterrestrial
spacecraft to Betty Hill in 1961, later drawn by her from memory
and published in 1966, corresponds well to similar maps of the
closest stars resembling the sun based on stellar positions in
the 1969 Gliese Catalog of Nearby Stars. The comparison maps
were made by Marjorie Fish using a three dimensional physical
model and later by a group of Ohio State University students
using a presumably more accurate (i.e., less subjective) computer
generated projection. The argument rests on how well the maps
agree and on the statistical significance of the comparison.
Figure 1 [not available here] show the Hill map and the
Ohio State computer map with connecting lines as given in the
ASTRONOMY article. The inclusion of these lines (said to
represent trade or navigation routes) to establish a resemblance
between the maps is what a lawyer would call "leading the
witness". We could just as well have drawn lines as in the
bottom of Figure 1 to lead the other way. A less biased
comparison of the two data sets, without connecting lines as in
Figure 2, shows little similarity. Any residual resemblance is
enhanced by there being the same number of points in each map,
and can be accounted for by the manner in which these points were
The computer star map includes the sun and 14 stars selected
from a list of the 46 nearest stars similar to the sun, derived
from the Gliese catalog. It is not clear what criteria were used
to select precisely these 14 stars from the list, other than the
desire to find a resemblance to the Hill map. However, we can
always pick and choose from a large random data set some subset
that resembles a preconceived pattern. If we are free also to
select the vantage point (from all possible directions for
viewing the projection of a three dimensional pattern), it is a
simple matter to optimize the desired resemblance. Of course
such a resemblance in the case of selection from a random set is
a contrivance -- an example of the statistical fallacy known as
"the enumeration of favorable circumstances".
The presence of such a fallacy in this case appears even
more likely when we examine the original Hill drawing, published
in The Interrupted Journey by John Fuller. In addition to the
prominent points that Betty Hill connected by lines, her map also
includes a number of apparently random dots scattered about --
evidently to represent the presence of background stars but not
meant to suggest actual positions. However, three of these dots
appear in the version of the Hill map used in the comparison,
while the others are absent. Thus some selection was made even
from the original Hill map, although not to the same extent as
from the Gliese catalog. This allow even greater freedom to
contrive a resemblance.
Finally, we lear from The Interrupted Journey that Betty
Hill first thought she saw a remarkable similarity between her
UFO star map and a map of the constellation Pegasus published in
the New York Times in 1965 to show the position of the quasar
CTA-102. How many star maps, derived from the Gliese catalog or
elsewhere, have been compared with Betty Hill's before a supposed
agreement was found? If we suppress information on such
comparisons we also overestimate the significance of the result.
The argument on "The Zeta Reticuli Incident" demonstrates
only that if we set out to find a pattern correlation between two
nearly random data sets by selecting at will certain elements
from each and ignoring others, we will always be successful.
The argument cannot serve even to suggest a verification of the
Hill story -- which in any case is well known to be riddled with
internal and external contradictions, and which is amenable to
interpretations which do not invoke extraterrestrial
intelligence. Those of us concerned with the possibility of
extraterrestrial intelligence must take care to demand adequately
rigorous standards of evidence. It is all too easy, as the old
Chinese proverb says, for the imprisoned maiden to mistake the
beating of her own heart for the hoof beats of her rescuer's
Steven Soter is a research associate working under the advisement
of Carl Sagan, director of Cornell University's laboratory for
REPLY: By Terence Dickinson
The question raised by Steven Soter and Carl Sagan
concerning the pattern resemblance of the Hill map and the
computer generated projection of the Fish pattern stars is
certainly a key question worthy of discussion. Next month two
authors will make specific comments on this point.
Briefly, there is more to discounting the Fish
interpretation than pattern resemblance. We would have
discounted the Fish interpretation immediately on pattern
resemblance alone. The fact that all the connecting lines join
stars in a logical distance progression, and that all the stars
are solar type stars, is significant. Ms. Fish tried to fit
hundreds of other viewpoints and this one was the only one that
even marginally fit and made sense in three dimensions and
contained solar type stars. in this context, you could not "have
just as well drawn the lines...to lead the other way".
Naturally there was a desire to find a resemblance between a
group of nearby stars and the Hill pattern! That's why Marjorie
Fish built six models of the solar neighborhood containing the
relative positions of up to 256 nearby stars. The fact that she
came up with a pattern that fits as well as it does is a tribute
to her perseverance and the accuracy of the models. Stars cannot
be moved around "to optimize the desired resemblance". Indeed
Marjorie Fish first tried models using nearby stars of other than
strictly solar type as defined in the article. She found no
The three triangle dots selected from the background dots in
the Hill map were selected because Mrs. Hill said they were more
prominent than the other background stars. Such testimony was
the basis of the original map so we either accept Mrs. Hill's
observations and attempt to analyze them or reject the whole
incident. We feel there is sufficient evidence compelling us not
to reject the whole incident at this time.
We too are demanding rigorous standards of evidence to
establish the reality of extraterrestrial intelligence. If there
is even the slightest possibility that the Hills' encounter can
provide information about such life, we feel it is worth
pursuing. The map is worthy of examination by as many critical
minds as possible.
REPLY: By David R. Saunders
Last month, Steven Soter and Carl Sagan offered two
counterarguments relating to Terence Dickinson's article, "The
Zeta Reticuli Incident" (ASTRONOMY, December 1974).
Their first argument was to observe that the inclusion of
connecting lines in certain maps "is what a lawyer would call
'leading the witness'." This was used as the minor premise in a
syllogism for which the major premise was never stated. Whether
we should consider "leading the witness" a sin or not will depend
on how we conceive the purpose of the original article. The
implied analogy between ASTRONOMY magazine and a court of law is
tenuous at best; an expository article written for a
nonprofessional audience is entitled, in my opinion, to do all it
can to facilitate communication -- assuming that the underlying
message is honest. Much of what we call formal education is
really little more than "leading the witness", and no one who
accepts the educational goals objects very strongly to this
process. In this context, we may also observe that Soter's and
Sagan's first argument provides another illustrative example of
"leading the witness"; the argument attacks procedure, not
substance -- and serves only to blunt the reader's possible
criticism of the forthcoming second argument. This paragraph may
also be construed as an effort to lead the witness. Once we have
been sensitized to the possibilities, none of us needs to be
The second argument offered by Soter and Sagan does attack a
substance. Indeed, the editorial decision to publish the
original article was a responsible decision only if the issues
raised by this second line of possible argument were fully
considered. Whenever a statistical inference is made from
selected data, it is crucial to determine the strenuousness of
that selection and then to appropriately discount the apparent
clarity of the inference. By raising the issue of the possible
effects of selection, Soter and Sagan are right on target.
However, by failing to treat the matter with quantitative
objectivity ( by failing to weigh the evidence in each direction
numerically, for example), they might easily perform a net
In some situations, the weight of the appropriate discount
will suffice to cancel the clarity of a proposed inference -- and
we will properly dismiss the proposal as a mere capitalization on
chance, or a lucky outcome. (It is abundantly clear that Soter
and Sagan regard the star map results as just such a fortuitous
outcome.) In some other situations, the weight of the
appropriate discount may be fully applied without accounting for
the clarity of the inference as a potentially valid discovery.
For example, if I proposed to infer from four consecutive coin
tosses observed as heads that the coin would always yield heads,
you would properly dismiss this proposal as unwarranted by the
data. However, if I proposed exactly the same inference based on
40 similar consecutive observations of heads, you would almost
certainly accept the inference and begin looking with me for a
more systematic explanation of the data. The crucial difference
here is the purely quantitative distinction between 4 and 40; the
two situations are otherwise identical and cannot be
distinguished by any purely qualitative argument.
When Soter and Sagan use phrases such as "some subset that
resembles", "free also to select the vantage point", "simple
matter to optimize", and "freedom to contrive a resemblance",
they are speaking qualitatively about matters that should (and
can) be treated quantitatively. Being based only on this level
of argument, Soter's and Sagan's conclusions can only be regarded
A complete quantitative examination of this problem will
require the numerical estimation of at least three factors, and
their expression in a uniform metric so that wee can see which
way the weight of the evidence is leaning. The most convenient
common metric will be that of "bits of information", which is
equivalent to counting consecutive heads in the previous example.
One key factor is the degree of resemblance between the Hill
map and the optimally similar computer-drawn map. Precisely how
many consecutive heads is this resemblance equivalent to? A
second key factor is the precise size of the population of stars
from which the computer was allowed to make its selection. And a
third key factor is the precise dimensionality of the space in
which the computer was free to choose the best vantage point. If
the first factor exceeds the sum of the other two by a sufficient
margin, we are justified in insisting on a systematic explanation
for the data.
The third factor is the easiest to deal with. The
dimensionality of the vantage-point space is not more than three.
A property of the metric system for weighing evidence is that
each independent dimension of freedom leads us to expect the
equivalent of one more consecutive head in the observed data.
Three dimensions of freedom are worth exactly 3.0 bits. In the
end, even three bits will be seen as relatively minor.
The second factor might be much larger than this, and
deserve relatively more discussion. The appropriate discount for
this selection will be log2C, where C is the number of distinct
combinations of stars "available" to the computer. If we were to
agree that C must represent the possible combinations of 46 stars
taken 14 at a time, then log2C would be 37.8 bits; this would be
far more than enough to kill the proposed inference. However,
not all these combinations are equally plausible. We really
should consider only combinations that are adjacent to one
another and to the sun, but it is awkward to try to specify
exactly which combinations these are.
The really exciting moment in working with these data came
with the realization that in the real universe, our sun belongs
to a closed cluster together with just six of the other
admissible stars -- Tau Ceti, 82 Eridani, Zeta Tucanae, Alpha
Mensae, and Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli. The real configuration
of interstellar distances is such that an explorer starting from
any of the seven should visit all of them before venturing
outside. If the Hill map is assumed to include the sun, then it
should include the other members of this cluster within an
unbroken network of connections, and the other connected stars
should be relatively adjacent in the real universe.
Zeta Reticuli occupies a central position in all of the
relatively few combinations that now remain plausible. However,
in my opinion, the adjacency criteria do leave some remnant
ambiguity concerning the combination of real stars to be matched
against the Hill map -- but only with respect to the region
farthest from the sun. The stars in the closed cluster and those
in the chain leading to Gliese 67 must be included, as well as
Gliese 86 and two others from a set of five candidates. Log2C
for this remnant selection is 3.9 bits. we must also notice that
the constraint that Zeta Tucanae be occulted by Zeta Reticuli
reduces the dimensionality of the vantage-point space from 3.0 to
1.0. Thus, the sum of factors two and three is now estimated as
only 4.9 bits.
The first factor is also awkward to evaluate -- simply
because there is no standard statistical technique for comparing
points on two maps. Using an approximation based on rank-order
correlation, I've guessed that the number we seek here is between
11 and 16. (This is the result cited by Dickinson on page 15 of
the original article.) Deducting the second and third factors,
this rough analysis leaves us with an empirical result whose net
meaning is equivalent to observing at least 6 to 11 consecutive
heads. (I say "at least", because there are other factors
contributing to the total picture -- not discussed either by
Dickinson or by Soter and Sagan -- that could be adduced to
enhance this figure. For example, the computed vantage point is
in good agreement with Betty Hill's reported position when
observing the map, and the coordinate system implicit in the
boundaries of the map is in good agreement with a natural
galactic coordinate system. Neither have we discussed any
quantitative use of the connections drawn on the Hill map, which
were put there in advance of any of these analyses.)
In the final interpretation, it will always be possible to
argue that 5 or 10 or even 15 bits of remarkable information
simply isn't enough. However, this is a matter for each of us to
decide independently. In deciding this matter, it is more
important that we be consistent with ourselves (as we review a
large number of uncertain interpretations of data that we have
made) than that we be in agreement with some external authority.
I do believe, though, that relatively few individuals will
continue a coin-tossing match in which their total experience is
equivalent to even six consecutive losses. In scientific
matters, my own standard is that I'm interested in any result
that has five or more bits of information supporting it -- though
I prefer not to stick my neck out publicly on the basis of less
than 10. Adhering to this standard, I continue to find the star
map results exceedingly interesting.
Dr. David R. Saunders is a Research Associate at the University
of Chicago's Industrial Relations Center.
REPLY: By Michael Peck
Carl Sagan and Steven Soter, in challenging the
possibilities discussed in "The Zeta Reticuli Incident",
suggest that without the connecting lines drawn into the Hill map
and the Fish interpretation there is little resemblance between
the two. This statement can be tested using only X and Y
coordinates of the points in the Hill map and a projection of the
stars in the Fish pattern. The method used for the comparison
can be visualized this way:
Suppose points of the Hill map and the Fish map are plotted
on separate glass plates. These plates are held parallel (one
behind the other), and are moved back and forth and rotated until
the patterns appear as nearly as possible to match. A systematic
way of comparing the patterns would be to adjust the plates until
corresponding pairs of points match exactly. Then the other
points in the patterns can be compared. Repeating this process
for all the possible pairs of points (there are 105 in this
case), the best fit can be found. Mathematically, this involves
a change of scale and a simple coordinate transformation. A
computer program was written which, using X and Y coordinates
measured from a copy of the Hill map and a projection of the Fish
stars, and using the Hill map as the standard, computed new X and
Y coordinates for the Fish stars using the process described.
From these two sets of coordinates, six quantities were
calculated: the average difference in X and Y; the standard
deviation of the differences in X and Y, a measure of the amount
of variation of the differences; and correlation coefficients in
X and Y. The coefficient of correlation is a quantity used by
statisticians to test a suspected relation between two sets of
data. In this case, for instance, we suspect that the X and Y
coordinates computed from the Fish map should equal the X and Y
coordinates of the Hill map. If they matched exactly, the
correlation coefficients would be one. If there were no
correlation at all, the value would be near zero. We found that,
for the best fitting orientation of the Fish stars, there was a
correlation coefficient in X of 0.95 and in Y of 0.91. In
addition, the average difference and the standard deviation of
the differences were both small -- about 1/10 the total range in
X and Y. As a comparison, the same program was run for a set of
random points, with resulting correlation coefficients of 1/10 or
less (as was expected). We can conclude, therefore, that the
degree of resemblance between the two maps is fairly high.
From another point of view, it is possible to compute the
probability that a random set of points will coincide with the
Hill map to the degree of accuracy observed here. The
probability that 15 points chosen at random will fall on the
points of the Hill map within an error range which would make
them as close as the Fish map is about one chance in 10 to the
fifteenth power (one million billion). It is 1,000 times more
probable that a person could predict a bridge hand dealt from a
Michael Peck is an astronomy student at Northwestern University
REBUTTAL: To David Saunders and Michael Peck
By Carl Sagan and Steven Soter
Dr. David Saunders last month claimed to have demonstrated
the statistical significance of the Hill map, which was allegedly
found on board a landed UFO and supposedly depicted the sun and
14 nearby sunlike stars. The Hill map was said to resemble the
Fish map -- the latter being an optimal two-dimensional
projection of a three-dimensional model prepared by selecting 14
stars from a positional list of the 46 nearest known sunlike
stars. Saunders' argument can be expressed by the equation SS =
Dr -(SF + VP), in which all quantities are in information bits.
SS is the statistical significance of the correlation between the
two maps, DR is the degree of resemblance between them, SF is a
selection factor depending on the number of stars chosen and the
size of the list, and VP is the information content provided by a
free choice in three dimensions of the vantage point for
projecting the map. Saunders finds SS = 6 to 11 bits, meaning
that the correlation is equivalent to between 6 and 11
consecutive heads in a coin toss and therefore probably not
accidental. The procedure is acceptable in principle, but the
result depends entirely on how the quantities on the right-hand
side of the equation were chosen.
For the degree of resemblance between the two maps, Saunders
claims that DR = 11 to 16 bits, which he admits is only a guess
-- but we will let it stand. For the selection factor, he at
first takes SF = log2C = 37.8 bits, where C represents the
combinations of 46 things taken 14 at a time. Realizing that the
size of this factor alone will cause SS to be negative and wipe
out his argument, he makes a number of ad hoc adjustments based
essentially on his interpretation of the internal logic of the
Hill map, and SF somehow gets reduced to only 3.9 bits. For the
present, we will let even that stand in order to avoid becoming
embroiled in a discussion of how an explorer from the star Zeta
Reticuli would choose to arrange his/her/its travel itinerary --
a matter about which we can claim no particular knowledge.
However, we must bear in mind that a truly unprejudiced
examination of the data with no a priori interpretations would
give SF = 37.8 bits.
It is Saunders' choice of the vantage point factor VP with
which we must take strongest issue, for this is a matter of
geometry and simple pattern recognition. Saunders assumes that
free choice of the vantage point for viewing a three-dimensional
model of 15 stars is worth only VP = 3 bits. He then reduces the
information content of directionality to one bit by introducing
the "constraint" that the star Zeta Tucanae be occulted by Zeta
Reticuli (with no special notation on the Hill map to mark this
peculiarity). This ad hoc device is invoked to explain the
absence of Zeta Tucanae from the Hill map, but it reveals the
circular reasoning involved. After all, why bother to calculate
the statistical significance of the supposed map correlation if
one has already decided which points represent which stars?
Certainly the selection of vantage point is worth more than
three bits (not to mention one bit). Probably the easiest
circumstance to recognize and remember about random projections
of the model in question are the cases in which two stars appear
to be immediately adjacent. By viewing the model from all
possible directions, there are 14 distinct ways in which any
given star can be seen in projection as adjacent to some other
star. This can be done for each of the 15 stars, giving 210
projected configurations -- each of which would be recognized as
substantially different from the others in information content.
And of course there are many additional distinct recognizable
projections of the 15 stars not involving any two being
immediately adjacent. (For example, three stars nearly
equidistant in a straight line are easily recognized, as in
Orion's belt.) Thus for a very conservative lower bound, the
information content determined by choice of vantage point (that
is, by being allowed to rotate the model about three axes) can be
taken as at least equal to VP = log2(210) = 7.7 bits. Using the
rest of Saunders' analysis, this would at best yield SS = zero to
4.4 bits -- not a very impressive correlation.
There is another way to understand the large number of bits
involved in the choice of the vantage point. The stars in
question are separated by distances of order 10 parsecs. If the
vantage point is situated above or not too far from the 15 stars,
it need only be shifted by about 0.17 parsecs to cause a change
of one degree in the angle subtended by some pair of stars. Now
one degree is a very modest resolution, corresponding to twice
the full moon and is easily detected by anyone. For three
degrees of freedom, the number of vantage points corresponding to
this resolution is of order (10/0.17) cubed ~ (60) cubed ~ 2 X 10
to the fifth power, corresponding to VP = 17.6 bits. This factor
alone is sufficient to make SS negative, and to wipe out any
validity to the supposed correlation.
Even if we were to accept Saunders' claim that SS = 6 to 11
bits (which we obviously do not, particularly in view of the
proper value for SF), it is not at all clear that this would be
statistically significant because we are not told how many other
possible correlations were tried and failed before the Fish map
was devised. For comparison, there is the well-known correlation
between the incidence of Andean earthquakes and oppositions of
the planet Uranus. It is unlikely in the extreme that there is a
physical causal mechanism operating here -- among other reasons,
because there is no correlation with oppositions of Jupiter,
Saturn or Neptune. But to have found such a correlation the
investigator must have sought a wide variety of correlations of
seismic events in many parts of the world with oppositions and
conjunctions of many astronomical objects. If enough
correlations are sought, statistics requires that eventually one
will be found, valid to any level of significance that we wish.
Before we can determine whether a claimed correlation implies a
causal connection, we must convince ourselves that the number of
correlations sought has not been so large as to make the claimed
This point can be further illustrated by Saunders' example
of flipping coins. Suppose we flip a coin once per second for
several hours. Now let us consider three cases: two heads in a
row, 10 heads in a row, and 40 heads in a row. We would, of
course, think there is nothing extraordinary about the first
case. Only four attempts at flipping two coins are required to
have a reasonable expectation value of two heads in a row. Ten
heads in a row, however, will occur only once in every 2 to the
tenth power = 1,024 trials, and 40 heads in a row will occur only
once every 2 to the fortieth ~ 10 to the twelfth power trials.
At a flip rate of one coin per second, a toss of 10 coins
requires 10 seconds; 1,024 trials of 10 coins each requires just
under three hours. But 40 heads in a row at the same rate
requires 4 X 10 to the thirteenth power seconds or a little over
a million years. A run of 40 consecutive heads in a few hours of
coin tossing would certainly be strong prima facie evidence of
the ability to control the fall of the coin. Ten heads in a row
under the circumstances we have described would provide no
convincing evidence at all. It is expected by the law of
probability. The Hill map correlation is at best claimed by
Saunders to be in the category of 10 heads in a row, but with no
clear statement as to the number of unsuccessful trials
Michael Peck finds a high degree of correlation between the
Hill map and the Fish map, and thereby also misses the central
point of our original criticism: that the stars in the Fish map
were already preselected in order to maximize that very
correlation. Peck finds one chance in 10 to the fifteenth power
that 15 random points will correlate with the Fish map as well as
the Hill map does. However, had he selected 15 out of a random
sample of, say, 46 points in space, and had he simultaneously
selected the optimal vantage point in three dimensions in order
to maximize the resemblance, he could have achieved an apparent
correlation comparable to that which he claims between the Hill
and Fish maps. Indeed, the statistical fallacy involved in "the
enumeration of favorable circumstances" leads necessarily to
large, but spurious correlations.
We again conclude that the Zeta Reticuli argument and the
entire Hill story do not survive critical scrutiny.
Dr. Steven Soter is a research associate in astronomy and Dr.
Carl Sagan is director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies,
both at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
IS THE FISH INTERPRETATION UNIQUE?
By Robert Sheaffer
The story of Marjorie Fish's attempts at identifying the
star patterns sketched by Betty Hill was told in "The Zeta
Reticuli Incident" by Terence Dickinson in the December 1974
issue. This pattern of solar type stars unquestionably bears a
striking resemblance to the map that Betty Hill says she saw
while she was being examined aboard a flying saucer. But how
significant is this resemblance? Is there only one pattern of
stars which will match the sketch convincingly?
Betty Hill herself discovered an impressive resemblance in a
star map published in the New York Times. In 1965 a map of the
stars of the constellation Pegasus appeared in that newspaper,
accompanying the announcement by a Russian radio astronomer
(Comrade Sholomitsky) the radio source CTA-102, depicted in the
map, may be sending out intelligent radio signals. Intrigued by
this remarkable claim, Betty Hill studied the map, and added the
corresponding star names to her sketch. As you can see, the
Pegasus map -- while not exactly like the sketch -- is
impressively similar. If CTA-102 -- appearing near the "globes"
in her sketch -- was in reality an artificial radio source, that
would give the Pegasus map much additional credibility.
However, the case for the artificial origin of quasar CTA-
102 soon fell flat. Other scientists were unable to observe
these reported strange variations which had caused Sholomitsky to
suggest that CTA-102 might be pulsing intelligently.
In 1966, when Marjorie Fish was just beginning her work,
Charles W. Atterberg (employed by an aeronautical communications
firm in Illinois) also set out to attempt to identify this star
"I began my search by perusing a star atlas I had on hand,"
Atterberg explained. "I soon realized that this was a pointless
and futile project." Any star pattern useful for interstellar
navigation, he reasoned, would not be Earth-centered as are the
familiar constellation figures. Thus Atterberg began to look in
three dimensions for a pattern of stars that would approximate
the Hill sketch.
Working from a list of the nearest stars, Atterberg "began
plotting these stars as they would be seen from various
directions. I did this by drawing the celestial position of a
star, I would draw a straight line penetrating the sphere at a
known position, and measure out to the distance of the star...It
at first took me hours to plot this out from any one particular
When plotting the stars as seen from a position indefinitely
far away on the celestial equator at 17 hours right ascension,
Atterberg found a pattern of stars conspicuously similar to the
Hill sketch. After much work he refined this position to 17
hours 30 minutes right ascension, -10 degrees declination. The
resulting map resembles the Hill sketch even more strongly than
does the Fish map, and it contains a greater number of stars.
Furthermore, all of the stars depicted in the Atterberg map lie
within 18.2 light-years of the sun. The Fish map reaches out 53
light-years, where our knowledge of stellar distances is much
Carl Sagan states in Intelligent Life in the Universe that,
excluding multiple star systems, "the three nearest stars of
potential biological interest are Epsilon Eridani, Epsilon Indi
and Tau Ceti." These three stars from the heart of the Atterberg
map, defining the two spheres in the very center of the heavy
lines that supposedly represent the major "trade routes" of the
"UFOnauts". Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti were the two stars
listened to by Project Ozma, the pioneering radio search for
intelligent civilization in space.
Other heavy lines connect the spheres with the sun, which we
know has at least one habitable planet. Thinner lines,
supposedly representing places visited less frequently, connect
with Groombridge 1618, Groombridge 34, 61 Cygni and Sigma
Draconis, which are designated as stars "that could have
habitable planets" in Stephen H. Dole's Rand Corporation study,
Habitable Planets for Man. Of the 11 stars (not counting the
sun) that have allegedly been visited by the aliens, seven of
them appear on Dole's list. Three of the four stars which are
not included are stopping points on the trip to Sigma Draconis,
which Dole considered to have even better prospects than Epsilon
Eridani or Epsilon Indi for harboring a habitable planet.
Another remarkable aspect of the Atterberg map is the fact
that its orientation, unlike the Fish map, is not purely
arbitrary. Gould's belt -- a concentration of the sky's
brightest stars -- is exactly perpendicular to the plane of the
Atterberg map. Furthermore, it is vertical in orientation; it
does not cut obliquely across the map, but runs exactly up and
down. A third curious coincidence: The southpole of the
Atterberg map points toward the brightest part of Gould's belt,
in the constellation Carina. The bright stars comprising Gould's
belt might well serve as a useful reference frame for
interstellar travelers, and it is quite plausible that they might
base a navigational coordinate system upon it.
No other map interpreting the Hill sketch offers any
rationale for its choice of perspectives. The problem with
trying to interpret Betty Hill's sketch is that it simply fits
too many star patterns. Three such patterns have been documented
to date. How many more exist undiscovered?
Robert Sheaffer is a computer systems programmer currently
working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.
REPLY: By Marjorie Fish
Basically, Robert Sheaffer's contention is that at least
three patterns can be found that are similar to Betty Hill's map,
and therefore, more such interpretations are likely. If one
stipulates that any stars from any vantage point can be used,
then I agree that many patterns can be found similar to the map.
However, if one uses restrictions on the type of stars, according
to their probability of having planets and also on the logic of
the apparent travel paths, then it is much more difficult. The
three maps were: (1) Betty Hill's interpretation of the
constellation Pegasus as being similar to her map, (2) Charles
Atterberg's work, and (3) my work.
When I started the search, I made a number of restrictions
1) The sun had to be part of the pattern with a line
connected to it, since the leader of the aliens indicated this to
2) Since they came to our solar system, they should also be
interested in solar type stars (single main sequence G, probably
also late single main sequence F and early single main sequence
K). These stars should not be bypassed if they are in the same
general volume of space.
3) Since there are a number of the above stars relatively
near the sun and the pattern shows only 12 stars, the pattern
would have to be relatively close to us (or else they would be
bypassing sunlike stars, which is illogical).
4) The travel pattern itself should be logical. That is,
they would not zip out 300 light-years, back to 10 light-years,
then out 1,000, etc. The moves should make a logical
5) Large young main sequence stars (O, B, A, early F) which
are unlikely to have planets and/or life would not be likely to
6) Stars off the main sequence with the possible exception
of those just starting off the main sequence would probably be
avoided as they are unsuitable for life and, due to their
variability, could be dangerous.
7) If they go to one star of a given type, it shows interest
in that type star -- so they should go to other stars of that
type if they are in the same volume of space. An exception to
this might be the closest stars to the base star, which they
might investigate out of curiosity in the early stages of stellar
travel. For example, they would not be likely to bypass five red
dwarfs to stop at the sixth, if all six were approximately equal
in size, spectra, singleness or multiplicity, etc. Or, if they
go to one close G double, they would probably go to other close G
8) The base star or stars is one or both of the large
circles with the lines radiating from it.
9) One or both of the base stars should be suitable for life
-- F8 to K5 using the lowest limits given by exobiologists, or
more likely, K1 given by Dole.
10) Because the base stars are represented as such large
circles, they are either intrinsically bigger or brighter than
the rest or they are closer to the map's surface (the viewer)
than the rest -- probably the latter. This was later confirmed
by Betty Hill.
Mrs. Hill's interpretation of Pegasus disregards all of
Atterberg's work is well done. His positioning of the stars
is accurate. He complies with criteria 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8;
fairly well with 4; less well with 9, and breaks down on 7 and
10. I will discuss the last three of Atterberg's differences
with my basic criteria in the following paragraphs:
Relative to point 9, his base stars are Epsilon Indi and
Epsilon Eridani, both of which are near the lower limit for life
bearing planets -- according to most exobiologists -- and not
nearly as suitable as Zeta 1 and 2 Reticuli.
Concerning point 7, I had ruled out the red dwarfs fairly
early because there were so many of them and there were only 12
lined points on the Hill map. If one used red dwarfs in logical
consecutive order, all the lines were used up before the sun was
reached. Atterberg used red dwarfs for some of his points to
make the map resemble Betty Hill's but he bypassed equally good
similar red dwarfs to reach them. If they were interested in red
dwarfs, there should have been lines going to Gliese 65 (Luyten
76208) which lies near Tau Ceti and about the same distance from
Epsilon Eridani as Tau Ceti, and Gliese 866 (Luyten 789-6) which
is closer to Tau Ceti than the sun. Gliese 1 (CD-37 15492) and
Gliese 887 (CD-36 15693) are relatively close to Epsilon Indi.
These should have been explored first before red dwarfs farther
Red dwarfs Gliese 406 (Wolf 359) and Gliese 411 (BD + 36
2147) were by passed to reach Groombridge 1618 and Ross 128 from
the sun. Barnard's star would be the most logical first stop out
from the sun, if one were to stop at red dwarfs, as it is the
closest single M and is known to have planets.
Since Atterberg's pattern stars include a number of
relatively close doubles (61 Cygni, Struve 2398, Groombridge 34
and Kruger 60), there should also be a line to Alpha Centauri --
but there is not.
Relating to point 10, Atterberg's base stars are not the
largest or brightest of his pattern stars. The sun, Tau Ceti,
and Sigma Draconis are brighter. Nor are they closer to the
viewer. The sun and 61 Cygni are much closer to the viewer than
Epsilon Eridani. The whole orientation feels wrong because the
base stars are away from the viewer and movement is along the
lines toward the viewer. (Betty Hill told me that she tried to
show the size and depth of the stars by the relative size of the
circles she drew. This and the fact that the map was alleged to
be 3-D did not come out in Interrupted Journey, so Atterberg
would not have known that.)
Sheaffer notes that seven of Atterberg's pattern stars
appear on Dole's list as stars that could have habitable planets.
These stars are Groombridge 1618 (Gliese 380, BD + 50 1725),
Groombridge 34 (Gliese 15,BD +43 44), 61 Cygni, Sigma Draconis,
Tau Ceti, Epsilon Eridani and Epsilon Indi. Of these seven, only
Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti and Sigma Draconis are above Doles'
absolute magnitude minimum. The others are listed in a table in
his book Habitable Planets for Man, but with the designation:
"Probability of habitable planet very small; less than 0.001."
Epsilon Eridani was discussed earlier. Sigma Draconis appears
good but is listed as a probable variable in Dorrit Hoffleit's
Catalogue of Bright Stars. Variability great enough to be
noticed from Earth at Sigma Draconis' distance would cause
problems for life on its planets. This leaves Tau Ceti which is
one of my pattern stars also.
Another point Sheaffer made was that orientation of my map
was arbitrary compared to Atterberg's map's orientation with
Gould's belt. One of my first questions to Betty Hill was, "Did
any bright band or concentration of stars show?" This would
establish the galactic plane and the map's orientation, as well
as indicate it was not just a local map. But there was none
indicating that if the map was valid it was probably just a local
The plane of the face of my model map is not random, as
Sheaffer indicated. It has intrinsic value for the viewer since
many of the pattern stars form a plane at this viewing angle.
The value to the viewer is that these stars have their widest
viewing separation at that angle, and their relative distances
are much more easily comprehended.
My final interpretation of the map was the only one I could
find where all the restrictions outlined above were met. The
fact that only stars most suitable for Earthlike planets remained
and filled the pattern seems significant.
Marjorie Fish is a research assistant at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory in Tennessee.
ZETA RETICULI -- A RARE SYSTEM
By Jeffrey L. Kretsch
Zeta Reticuli is a unique system in the solar neighborhood
-- a wide physically associated pair of stars almost exactly like
the sun. After searching through a list of stars selected from
the Gliese catalog on the basis of life criteria, only one other
pair within a separation of even 0.3 light-years could be found.
(This pair -- Gliese 201 and Gliese 202, a K5e and F8Ve pair
separated by 0.15 light-years -- is currently being
investigated.) Zeta Reticuli is indeed a rare case.
Based on the Fish interpretation of the Hill map, the Zeta
Reticuli pair forms the base of the pattern. If the other stars
in the patter fit, it is a remarkable association with a rare
In order to deal with this problem, I decided to computer
the three-dimensional positions of the stars and construct a
three-dimensional model showing these stars positions.
Speaking quantitatively, I discovered the two patterns are
certainly not an exact match. However, if one considers the
question of match from the standpoint of how the Hill pattern was
made as opposed to the derived pattern's means of reproduction,
the quantitative data may not be a complete means of determining
whether the two patterns "match" or not. For example, the Hill
pattern was drawn freehand -- so one would have to determine how
much allowance one must give for differences in quantitative
data. In such areas, I am not qualified to give an opinion.
However, because the map was drawn freehand from memory, the fact
that the resemblance between the Fish map and the Hill map is a
striking one should be considered.
In my work I was able to verify the findings of Marjorie
Fish in terms of the astronomy used.
Jeffrey L. Kretsch is an astronomy student at Northwestern